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Classics on TV: BFI Southbank programme, 26 June 2012

Tonight sees the fifth – and final – programme in the five-night Screen Plays season Classics on TV: Greek Tragedy on the Small Screen at BFI Southbank. This evening we will see Iphigenia at Aulis, Don Taylor’s production of Euripides’ play for BBC Television in 1990. This happens to be the last full production of Greek tragedy on British television, and so it’s a fitting note on which to end the season. It also features a stirring performance by Fiona Shaw in the role of Clytemnestra. At the time of writing, a few tickets for the 6pm showing are available via the BFI website.

For the previous screenings on 7, 13, 19 and 23 June we tried an experiment, inviting anyone who was at the screening to contribute their thoughts about the programmes on this blog. The experiment has been really successful – read the Comments on King Oedipus and Oedipus Tyrannus (7 June), Electra and Women of Troy with panel discussion with Fiona Shaw and Oliver Taplin (13 June), Agamemnon (Part 1 of The Serpent Son) and Of Mycenae and Men (19 June) and The Oresteia (23 June) – and so we will continue this for this final screening.

Any and all responses, however brief, would be welcome in the Comments below – and John Wyver and I will also be offering some further thoughts.

My detailed Screen Plays post about this production of Iphigenia at Aulis remains available.

Click the links for full details of the season and a write-up of our symposium about Greek tragedy on the small screen at the University of Westminster, which took place last Friday.

Do please share your thoughts with us…



8 thoughts on “Classics on TV: BFI Southbank programme, 26 June 2012

  1. It was really wonderful to see another nearly full house for last night’s screening of Iphigenia at Aulis and, once again, superb to see another of these television productions on the big screen. It was a very valuable experience to see the richness of the colours in the sky and costume, the greater detail visible in the set design, etc (noting, of course, that these aspects weren’t necessarily true to the original television transmission back in 1990!)

    I like this production the most of Don Taylor’s Greek plays for television. I think, as I’ve said before (in my blog post on the production, which I link to above) that the set design is really inventive. It’s also quite gorgeous to look at too. The tall curve of the passageway, the variety of heights possible through the several flights of steps, some of which resemble the theatron, the space where the audience were seated in an ancient theatre. (Indeed, it was clever indeed how this space was often occupied by the women of the chorus as they watched events unfolding: I think there’s a lot more to be thought about there.) I noticed for the first time last night how the ‘clouds’ moved very slowly (almost imperceptibly before the sacrifice of Iphigenia) across the ‘sky’ – can anyone share expertise on how this effect would have been achieved? What struck me most, though, was how like a painting some of the shots were: the combination of the richly coloured sky, the costumes worn by the female characters and the variety in the set combined to produce some really good-looking tableaux.

    Another thing which strikes me as particularly good about this production is the echoes of the next stage in the mythological story of the House of Atreus – that is, Agamemnon’s homecoming. I hope I won’t be spoiling anyone’s enjoyment of their further explorations of Greek myth by saying that Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon immediately on his return from Troy, ten years later. I thought that this was nicely signposted in this production. Fiona Shaw, as Clytemnestra, holds her right fist up as if holding a dagger when she asks her husband if he wants his homecoming to be as grisly as the sacrifice of his own daughter which he is about to perform. When he soon strides off between the two empty flights of amphitheatre-type steps, I got a ‘flash forward’ to his entry into the palace in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon: the future act of revenge is already decided upon, it seems. And of course, at the close, the swirling winds and dark skies surrounding the utterly devastated and fiercely angry Clytemnestra speaks volubly of what is to come.

    On the other side, I think it was a little long. The production could easily have been half an hour shorter without losing anything. Indeed, tightening up the more ponderous sections when nothing much is happening and nothing being said may have made it a stronger production.

    Anyway, that’s enough from me – I can’t wait to hear what others thought of it!

    Posted by Amanda Wrigley | 27 June 2012, 9:43 am
  2. A lot of thoughts went through my head:

    Isn’t it well-lit? Most multi-camera material is brightly lit, so that all the cameras can pick up the action properly. It’s very difficult to light multi-camera in any other way, and so most of the time no-one bothers. Here they clearly did, and the whole thing looks much more muted and atmospheric as a result.

    i think you’re a bit unkind in the other post to Roy Marsden, who seemed very effective to me.

    The Chorus looks less celebrity-filled than those of the Theban plays, but I fear that is because the female stars of the 1980s have been more easily forgotten than the male ones.

    I was struck once again by the constant references in the text to ‘barbarians’. In the context of the plays original composition, somewhere around 407, when Sparta was busy selling out the Greek cities of Asia Minor to the Persian empire, in return for money to beat Athens, this still seems to me significant, even though I no longer read the play as allegorically as I once did.

    I also found myself thinking what Taylor would have done had he been able to do all three as he planned. Would he have kept Tim Woodward as Menelaus throughout? This would be interesting, as Menelaus is rather different in Trojan Women, and again in Helen (and in Andromache and Orestes – and what was it about menelaus that so fascinated Euripides anyway?). Might Fiona Shaw have been cast as Clytemnestra’s twin? Would Taylor have kept the prologue to Trojan Women, with Athena and Poseidon (I suspect yes – it’s in his published text – but many people do drop it). I hope that his production would have been rather different from Katie Mitchell’s of his text, which I didn’t like, not least for the cliche of demonstrating Cassandra’s madness by having her take her clothes off – would Taylor have done anything so crude?

    Evidently when the translation was published, Taylor was still hoping to make the other two plays. I remember after the Theban plays came out, I talked to Geoffrey Lewis, and got the impression that there was some discussion over which plays to take, as there weren’t three that made such an obvious set as the Theban plays. But Taylor always wanted to do Euripides.

    Posted by tonykeen46 | 28 June 2012, 1:44 pm


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Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace
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